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100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show

Jessie Brown

We pack 100 years of history into a few hundred words.

Queen at Chelsea Garden show

Her Majesty...The Queen takes a stroll at the Chelsea Garden Show. Photo:Birmingham Culture (Flickr)

THE prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, with the annual event kicking-off on the 21st May. While you may know just how important this beautiful show is, we doubt you are up-to-date with the 100 years of history. So to give you a quick course in this British institution we have crammed a centenary-worth of awards, tears, tantrums and royals into the next few hundred words.

20th May 1913

The Chelsea Flower Show opens for the first time. But it was just luck that the event ended up at Chelsea, after the Royal Horticultural Society's Great Spring Show grew too big for previous venues and needed a new home. Queen Alexandra attended and the event was deemed a success with 255 exhibitors showing on the day and 17 display gardens.

WWI & WWII100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show

Like many things in Britain the two world wars forced the shutdown of the tremendous horticultural show while resources and time was spent on the war effort.


Economic depression meant the focus of the flower show actually became vegetables as growers became thrifty with their cash and their garden displays. Elaborate rock gardens also became a popular choice for those displaying at the Chelsea Flower Show.


Before the Great Pavilion took centre-stage the flower show’s focal point was actually a giant tent. The tent or ‘Great Marquee’ was said to be the world’s largest, spreading across 3.5 acres and taking 20 days to be setup by a team of workers. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the marquee was replaced with a more permanent structure.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 amped up the mood of the country as well as the celebratory nature of the flower show.

1970s and 80s

This is when the Chelsea Flower Show really became the ‘place to be’ as its popularity grew so much that a new system for visitors had to be put in place to avoid overcrowding. Opening hours were extended in the morning and well into the evening to get more visitors through the gates.


The Chelsea Flower Show now sees more than 157,000 visitors attend each year. Media from all over come to the event to cover the awards, the beautiful gardens and the celebrity guests and royal family members who attend annually. It is an event all about prestige but also it opens the world of horticulture to the masses.

If you want to know more about the Chelsea Flower Show or get ticket information, see our events page.

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